U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- A wet October has increased optimism that
winter precipitation could help end Idaho's five-year drought, but
the state's largest electric utility is still committed to a
cloud-seeding program to add extra moisture.
After three years of cloud seeding at the expense of its
shareholders, Idaho Power Co. wants state regulators to have its
customers pick up most of the tab in the future.
Based on past performance, the company plans to spend $950,000
this winter and next spring on the program it began in 2001 during
the Western energy crisis. Idaho Power officials maintain that last
year seeding increased precipitation 16 percent from February through
That additional snowfall in the mountains increases the spring
runoff that fills southern Idaho's rivers and reservoirs. Any
additional flow through the river system and Idaho Power's
hydro-generating dams provides the utility and its 436,000 customers
some of the cheapest electricity in the nation.
Maximizing power from the dams, regulators agree, limits the
amount of more expensive coal-fired generation from plants in Oregon,
Nevada and Wyoming on power from the wholesale market the company
must use to meet customer demand.
The Public Utilities Commission is reviewing written comments on
the proposal and has not scheduled a public hearing yet.
Idaho Power has proposed allocating 90 percent of future costs to
ratepayers while its shareholders would pick up the remaining
expense. But any decision to shift the cost to customers would not
immediately affect rates.
Any recovery by the utility would be rolled into the annual rate
adjustment it gets to reflect the level of generation it can expect
from its hydropower system. Under that procedure, rates go down when
more power is generated by water and up when there is greater
reliance on other power sources.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that
precipitation in October was normal and generally above normal across
most of southern Idaho, including the 24 central, eastern and
south-central counties that were given drought disaster declarations
"Compared to other years, where we've gotten off to poor starts,
this makes us optimistic," said Phil Morrisey, a hydrologist with the
Conservation Service. "But with 90 percent of the (water) year still
in front of us, it's too early to get too excited."
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